Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Logo speaks

Few people in America can speak with fuller credit about anything than Jerry West can about professional basketball.

He is, after all, literally the NBA's logo. His silhouette, rail-thin and frozen forever in that distinctive lean, is as familiar as a Michael Jordan dunk or a Kareem skyhook. So he is the NBA, in a far more fundamental sense than MJ was or LeBron James is.

And so when he says something about the latter, we'd all do well to listen. And not just because of the logo thing.

Although he's working for the team trying to beat LeBron and the Cavaliers in these NBA Finals, West shares a kinship with James, because both have failed so often and so blamelessly on the big stage. Like LeBron in the new millennium, West carried the Los Angeles Lakers on his back in the 1960s, bashing his head time after time against the un-breachable wall that was Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics. Every year he would bravely try, and every year he would bravely fail.

Before finally breaking through with Wilt Chamberlain in 1972, West lost in the NBA Finals seven times -- even in 1969, when he was so resplendent he was named the only Finals MVP ever to play for the losing team. His alltime Finals record: 1-8.

And so to LeBron, 2-4 in NBA Finals so far, looking as if he's about to become 2-5 after the Warriors used their depthless bench to batter the Cavs into submission in Game 1. And of course the rumblings have already begun about what losing again will do to LeBron's legacy.

The Logo, whose legacy so clearly survived a similar career trajectory, is having none of it.

"That's the most ridiculous thing," he said the other day of the incessant LeBron carping. "If I were him, I'd probably want to strangle [detractors]. He's carried teams on his shoulders. He's been to the Finals six straight times. How many times has he been the favorite? None. Zero. Grossly unfair to him.

"I don't want to sound like Donald Trump, but it's hard for me to believe someone doesn't recognize his greatness. This guy does everything, and he's competitive as hell. Frankly, I wish people would leave him alone."

Spoken as one who knows whereof he speaks. And who knows whereof he speaks like no one else.

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